The regiment was created through the amalgamation of the 72nd
(Duke of Albany's Own Highlanders) Regiment of Foot and the 78th (Highlanders)
(Ross-shire Buffs) Regiment of Foot, as part of the Childers Reforms of the
British Army in 1881.
It was named after Kenneth Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Seaforth, who had originally raised the 72nd Regiment. Originally named "Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs)", Queen Victoria approved on 22 November 1881 to style the regiment forthwith as "Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany's)".
The 1st battalion saw action at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir in September 1882 during the Anglo-Egyptian War. After returning home, the 1st battalion again went abroad in 1896, taking part in the International Occupation of Crete in 1897 and the reconquest of the Sudan, being present at the Battle of Atbara in April and the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898. They then moved to Cairo.
Meanwhile the 2nd battalion were stationed in India. They saw service on the North West Frontier, taking part in the Hazara Expeditions in the summer 1888 and the spring of 1891, and the Chitral Expedition in spring 1895. Returning home in 1897, the outbreak of the Second Boer War saw the 2nd Battalion travel to South Africa in November 1899, they suffering heavy losses at the Battle of Magersfontein in December 1899 and at the Battle of Paardeberg in February 1900.